Are you one of those individuals who find languages (even your own native tongue) very difficult to learn? Consequently, are you anxiously approaching your first visit to Spain, in fear that your meagre Spanish might not be enough?
If so, then you have come to the right place, because we are about to share with you all the ins and outs of getting by in Spain – with minimal Spanish!
English-speaking travelers of Europe are often a little surprised at how few Spaniards speak English, and are heard comparing it to other countries they have visited in Europe. Still, in our opinion, it is very possible to travel in Spain using only English.
How Many People Speak English In Spain
Thanks to English becoming a mandatory school subject, many younger Spaniards speak some English, while the older generations generally do not.
While many foreigners who live in Spain do speak English, most locals don’t. This is because their mother tongue is Spanish, so to answer the question ‘what do people in Spain speak?’, it’s Spanish. Particularly in those incredibly charming small towns that are so incredible to visit!
In fact, a recent study showed that almost 60% of Spain speaks no English at all, and of the remaining 35%, most don’t speak it very well. What’s even more surprising to many visitors in Spain is how much of the country’s tourism industry doesn’t speak English either.
Where Is The Most English Spoken In Spain?
We found most English-speaking Spaniards in the main tourists’ areas of Spain, around Barcelona, and along the Costa del Sol. Almost all of our hotel receptionists spoke some English, however, we often had problems in museums, with taxis, at restaurants, etc.
On visiting the city, except for a “Hola!” greeting, we soon stopped using our (very limited) Spanish as it became obvious to us that most Barcelonans preferred to speak to us in English than to try to converse in our poor Spanish. Other tourists have however reported very different experiences, and it does very much depend on where you go, and possibly even how friendly you are!
Madrid seemed to have the least English spoken, even in tourist spots such as the Royal Palace, so it’s best to skip the ques and buy your tickets for the Royal Palace online.
The fact is that everyone will have a different experience when it comes to traveling in Spain using only English. Some people have reported that English was everywhere they went, while others (usually traveling off the beaten path) have reported the opposite.
Business travelers, staying at high-end hotels and meeting with Spanish businessmen, would most likely never need to understand or speak Spanish. While someone staying in the least expensive accommodation and visiting the most out of the way places would likely find speaking a little Spanish necessary.
Whenever we have attempted to speak Spanish in Spain, Spaniards have always gone out of their way to be of assistance and help out. We even had our broken Spanish happily replied to in English.
Some Spanish Phrases To Help You Get Around In Spain:
- The first phrase everyone wants to know is probably: how do you say ‘’I only speak English in Spanish’’ (yo sólo hablo Inglés) or “do/can you speak English?” in Spanish this is informally translated to ‘Perdon, hablas ingles?’
- First things first, if the only Spanish word you learn is “Hi” (Hola, the ‘h’ is silent, pronounce like ‘O’la’) use it.
- Sí (yes) and, no (which is spelled the same as English)
- Next, adding ‘por favor’ to the end of what you are asking for is polite, and means please. It can also be used when giving something to someone.
- If you can handle ‘una habitacion por la noche’, you can get a room for the night. And Speaking a little Spanish always opens up cheaper accommodations – why not try it out at one of the top hotels in Spain?
- ‘La llave’ will get your room key from the hotel clerk. And remember to say ‘por favor’ when you give it back.
- ‘Menu del dia’ will get you lunch, or ‘menu of the day’ (costing between 8€ and 15€ per person) at a restaurant. And ‘Para comer?’ (will you be eating?) will probably be the first thing you are asked by your waiter.
Tips For Traveling Spain With Only English
- Don’t be scared to use your non-verbal cues!
- When using a taxi, write down your destination name (address if you have it) and hand it to the driver.
- If you ever stumble across an out-of-the-way shop with that perfect something, a little Spanish can help you negotiate on the price.
- You will find the cheapest accommodations where only Spanish is spoken – keep this in mind when booking accommodation on a budget. English-speaking hotel clerks are usually found in moderate to expensive hostels and hotels too. It is best to stick to the tourist areas if you want to only communicate in English.
- Downloading an app like Google Translate will help you out in situations where you can’t find anyone who speaks any English. Or even to translate signs, menus, labels in grocery stores – or to write a little thank you note when leaving a great hotel!
- Spanish food is wonderful and you’ll have some of your favourite experiences at Spanish-speaking restaurants!
When heading over to Spain, it is not realistic, nor is it fair, to expect every person to speak your language. Spanish is the language of the land and the music of the streets! Experiencing the language is essential to experiencing the culture.
We hope this little guide to getting by in Spain with no Spanish gives you an idea of how much English you can expect on you Spanish holiday, and how to get by with minimal Spanish too!
The handy thing with guided tours is that you can ensure your guide is English-speaking, and get as much history and tips as you can! Check out one of our favorites which takes you around the city, the Madrid bicycle tour.